They were regular children. They doodled in class. They looked forward to their lunch break. They didn’t want any homework. And yet, they were different. They didn’t have any friends at school outside of each other, and even then, those relationships were unique. They spoke eight different languages among them and were all beginning English learners. Using funny gestures and expressions, they helped each other throughout the day.
Several of them had left their home country because of extreme poverty and violence. A few escaped persecution. Some of them had to move when their parents’ jobs transferred them to a U.S. office. Their parents all wanted the same thing: a good life for their children. It’s the story of millions of our neighbors, and yet few of us understand it.
As students adjust to a new school year across the country, there is a good chance that your child has an immigrant student in his or her class. When there is a language or cultural barrier, it can be hard for children to know how to relate to an immigrant child. But the call to love their neighbor is the same when the neighbor was born in a different country as it is when the neighbor was born in the hospital 10 miles from your house (Lev. 19:33-34; Deut. 10:18-19).
As Christians, we have a responsibility to respond with love and compassion to immigrants. As Christian parents, we have the privilege to teach our children about immigration and God’s love for the nations. While having a foreigner as a classmate can create language and cultural barriers for everyone, it also provides a great opportunity to teach your child about the plight of the immigrant. What should we, as Christian parents, teach our children about immigration?
Immigration is as old as time.
Our children need to know that immigration is not just a current event. With more immigrants in our country than ever before and the polarizing debate about immigration, it may seem like it is an issue of just our time. But immigration dates back to some of the earliest history of man and will exist until Jesus returns. Starting in Genesis, we find the records of God’s faithfulness to his people living in foreign lands. Abraham was commanded to leave behind his home to sojourn to Canaan. In Exodus, we read about the hardships and oppression of the Israelites as they lived in a country not their own. Ruth immigrated to Israel with Naomi and is part of the lineage of King David and Jesus. And Jesus and his family had to flee their home for his physical safety. God used immigration in biblical times, just as he does now. It is hard today, just like it always has been.
Immigration reminds us that kingdoms on earth will not remain.
The lives of immigrants can remind our families of the fleeting nature of life on earth. Immigrants often give up everything they know for a new life in a foreign land. They leave behind friends and family and the familiarity of life in their culture. If your children have only lived in one context, it may be easy for them to think they have ownership over their home, neighborhood, and community. Ultimately, though, this world is not ours. Earth, and everything in it, belongs to God. We are simply stewards of whatever God has given us.
We are not here to preserve our earthly kingdoms. Not only is everything constantly changing, but our time will pass, and our influence is short. Our focus should be on eternity. Christ will return, and until then, he is preparing a perfect home for those who are his. Our children must remember that the Kingdom of God is at hand—and that’s the only kingdom that will remain.
When we see people wearing clothing from other countries or hear a foreign language, we can remind our children that God loves people from every nation with his perfect love.
God loves the nations.
When we have immigrant neighbors, we have access to a cross-cultural, international ministry in our own backyard. Your children have probably been singing “Jesus Loves the Little Children” since they were little. Do they understand that God’s Kingdom includes people from
“every nation, from all tribes and people and languages” (Rev. 7:9)? When we see people wearing clothing from other countries or hear a foreign language, we can remind our children that God loves people from every nation with his perfect love.
He calls his followers to the same love and commands the church to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). We can help our children reflect God’s love for people across the world by telling immigrants the saving truth of the gospel. And we can pray that our ministry to immigrants will become a global work as immigrants take the gospel to their families and countrymen.
Regardless of how or why an immigrant came to our country, we are called to love. Regardless of our position on immigration, we are called to love. Sometimes relationships with immigrants can come easily, but even when they don’t, loved influenced by the cross “is welcoming the immigrant simply because they bear the image of God,” writes Brett McCracken.
We can learn from different cultures.
People from other cultures and lands enrich our lives by teaching us new things. From my immigrant friends, I’ve learned about the value of family, respect for my elders, hospitality, perseverance, and more. Even learning words in a foreign language can give you a better understanding of an idea or emotion.
Our children will grow and gain from friendships with immigrants. They will have a better understanding of their family’s culture and the world. They will learn more about what it means to be human. They will grow in compassion and care. Loving the immigrant is not just about giving; we gain much from these relationships.
So much fear surrounds the debate around immigration. Take the mystery out of immigration, and help your whole family develop new friendships with foreigners. Go sit in immigrants’ homes and laugh through the awkwardness of learning about each other. Enjoy the food of the world and talk to your children about different cultures. Model to your children how to ask questions and learn. Invite immigrants into your home and life in order to minister to them for the sake of the gospel and their souls.